GREEN BAY, Wis. – The Green Bay Packers didn't seem like a team with any glaring needs going into the draft, so the Super Bowl champions made a big addition to their long-term protection plan for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay beefed up its offensive line with the final pick in Thursday night's first round, taking Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod. He said he can't wait to meet Rodgers — and can't wait to prove he can help keep the quarterback upright on the field.
"I'm basically there to protect him," Sherrod said. "That's what I do."
With the selection of the 6-5, 321-pound Sherrod, the Packers now have used their first-round pick on an offensive tackle in back-to-back drafts. Green Bay took Iowa's Bryan Bulaga last year.
Clearly, the Packers have made keeping Rodgers safe a priority.
"You like to keep him safe," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said. "You certainly do."
Although Sherrod played left tackle in college, Thompson wouldn't commit to having him play on that side in the pros.
"Where he's going to play, I don't know, but I know this: You can never have too many big men," Thompson said. "The more run blockers, the more pass blockers we have, the better off we do."
According to a scouting report distributed by the Packers, Sherrod started 36 of 47 career games at left tackle for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State was second in the SEC and 16th in the nation with an average of 214.85 yards rushing per game last season, according to the report, and Sherrod did not allow any of the 23 sacks given up by the Bulldogs' offensive line last season. He earned a bachelor's degree in business in August 2010, graduating with a 3.54 grade point average. Sherrod will wear No. 78 for the Packers.
In many ways, the Packers went into the draft looking like a team with few pressing needs.
Even beyond winning the title last year, the Packers expect to bring back a wave of high-profile injured players from last season, including running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley.
But there were a few specific areas Thompson might have been tempted to target.
One was the offensive line. The Packers took Bulaga last year with the intention of making him their left tackle of the future. But Bulaga ended up filling in — and playing well — at right tackle after an injury to veteran Mark Tauscher last season.
Veteran Chad Clifton played well at left tackle for the Packers last year, but Green Bay needs a long-term replacement plan for him. It's not clear whether that will be Sherrod or Bulaga, but now they at least have multiple options.
Sherrod said he was "very confident" he could play either tackle spot.
"We think he has the versatility, the athletic ability to play a number of spots," Thompson said. "We'll see how it works out. ... You never know how it's going to work out, but he's a good football player."
Another area of potential need was at outside linebacker, where the Packers paired several players with Clay Matthews last year. UCLA's Akeem Ayers and Arizona's Brooks Reed still were available when the Packers made their pick.
Green Bay also could have been looking for help at defensive end, given the fact that Cullen Jenkins is expected to leave via free agency and Johnny Jolly's NFL future remains unclear after another round of legal trouble. The Packers presumably drafted the player they expect to replace Jenkins last year — second-round pick Mike Neal, who showed ability before a season-ending shoulder injury.
Ohio State defensive end Cam Heyward went off the board just before the Packers picked, going to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the team the Packers beat in the Super Bowl.
Going into later rounds, the Packers also could use help in the return game and depth at wide receiver.
Thompson said the Packers did entertain some trade talks, but they didn't sound particularly serious.
"We talked to some people early on, but most of these talks were sort of fishing," Thompson said.